According to MC Leon Tong, director at Drupal development house BrightLemon, last night’s “Social Web for Museums, Galleries and Education” session at Cass Business School was one of the most subscribed events of London Social Media Week. Sabina and I were lucky enough to be on the list so that we could find out why.
The presenters, given a strict 10 minutes each – a brilliant idea, but surely a strict five-minute communal Q&A could have been appended? – fell into one of two distinct categotries: the gallerists, curators and educators, who spoke about their social activities right now, and the techs, who spoke of what was to come.
The former showed that the UK’s major spaces are all very busy with contemporary social technologies, but then again, they’re exceptionally well positioned to take advantage. As the Tate’s Kirstie Beaven found out when she asked @Tate‘s quarter-of-a-million followers just why they were following, these organisations have killer brands.
What’s more, social networks tend to work when communities come together around content (the fabled social object – think photos in Facebook). The M&Gs are hardly short of content, but even so, all of those presenting last night were supplementing their own stuff with UGC, including, in the case of the V&A, chicken cosies. As the V&A’s Gail Durbin stated explicitly, it’s about “actively engaging users in the collections”. Her big presentation-closing idea, to provide V&A fans with individual pages to curate their own slices of the V&A’s collection, sounds like a winner to me.
The tech side of things troubled me, particularly with regard to education. Certainly a site such as the Louvre’s is not particularly well optimised for search, but Drupal-advocate John Fintan’s suggestion that the museum compete with Wikipedia for terms such as “Mona Lisa” ahead of focusing on user experience seemed strange, and slightly arbitrary, to me.
Yes, he was using his son’s school research project to illustrate the value of publishing data in semantically-friendly forms – but what struck home for me was not how tricky it was to find the best material, but rather how his son hadn’t the wherewithal to get past Wikipedia.
Fintan himself defined education (via Wikipedia!) as society’s “transmission of accumulated knowledge, skills and values”. I’d suggest that self-reliance and individual initiative would be among those skills and values, and that educators should be mindful of the impact of task-simplifying technology.